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Walking in the footsteps of war survivors with virtual reality

Watching films on traditional screens lets people imagine how things might look in other worlds – whether real or imaginary – and how other people experience them. But it’s always from a third-person perspective.

One distinctive feature of virtual reality (VR) is its potential to transform such viewing experiences by enabling first-person immersion. VR can give people a sense of what it would be like if they were in those circumstances themselves.

Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, founders of the creative studio New Reality, have spent the last few years bringing this potential to life with their trilogy of VR films, ‘Tree’, ‘Giant’, and the upcoming ‘Breathe’.

Foundry Trends spoke to them about each of these projects.

Giant

Witnessing bombs raining down in her home town in Serbia had a lasting impact on Zec. In Giant, this is the experience she wanted the world to understand.

It brings to life the experience of a family living in a conflict zone, seeking shelter from bombings, but is set in a Western context with an apolitical narrative.

“We really wanted the piece to speak to the human – or rather the inhuman – aspect of war, and to help users connect with the lived experience of people in those circumstances,” Zec said. “VR is really the perfect medium because we actually put people in that situation—it feels like it’s happening to you, not someone else.”

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Tree

In this project, the viewer is transformed into a rainforest tree to experience its life-cycle.

Several senses are engaged, so that users can smell the rainforest and the soil, feel temperature changes and experience vibrations in their bodies to reflect the growth of the tree.

Once the tree is fully grown, humans enter the frame as a destructive force.

“We wanted to tackle this subject by taking a new approach that would help people truly connect with environmental issues,” Zec explained. “We wanted to take examples of how humans act as a destructive force in nature, and personalise it, so the user feels that they are being destroyed in that process.”

Zec and Porter will take Tree to the World Economic Forum, giving governments and businesses the opportunity to gain a more intimate form of insight into rainforest destruction.

“We want to take presidents, prime ministers and leaders of Fortune 500 companies through this journey, so they can experience climate change first hand,” Porter added.

Breathe

The final piece in the trilogy, Breathe, transports users into the shoes of a war survivor, living out her entire life in the space of ten minutes.

People will experience seven major moments of the character’s life, from childhood to the very end, witnessing how her existence begins with war and destruction, but eventually moves towards a path of personal empowerment—and a hopeful note for humanity’s future. The film will use the participants’ breath to interact and transition through the character’s journey.

The sound of breathing is used as the prompt to move the narrative forward but, as Zec told Foundry Trends, it has deeper implications.

“It’s called Breathe because we’re going to use breath to connect you to this character and move you through the story. But we also believe experiencing the story at the level of the breath makes it an even more intimate connection with the character.”

The film also enters a multiplayer phase, so the viewer can connect with other people—and Zec says this will serve as a reminder that we can tackle the world’s problems if we do so together.

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Breathe is in the early stages of production, and New Reality is looking for people to collaborate with on the project.

Interested in VR? Check out our article Reaching true VR immersion: one blink at a time, in which we explore how scientists are solving the problem of enabling people to move in a virtual environment!